A doctor – dubbed the ‘King of Viagra’ – is to be jailed for three years after being involved in a conspiracy supplying counterfeit Viagra (sildenafil) to patients around the world.

Dr George Patino, 48, a Mexican national, was told he was a “disgrace to his profession” by a judge at the Kingston Crown Court where Patino pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Patino is the latest in a group of businessman selling fake drugs to be prosecuted by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency in an operation known as Stormgrand.

The operation, initiated following a number of complaints from customers who had purchased the fake Viagra, has led to convictions in one of the biggest conspiracies of the supply of counterfeit medicines of its kind in the UK. The Daily Telegraph reported that £1.5 million worth of counterfeit drugs including erectile dysfunction drugs Viagra and Cialis (tadalafil) and baldness treatment Propecia (finasteride) had been manufactured in illicit factories in China, Pakistan and Asia as part of the plot.

Over a period of nine months, from February 2005 to October 2005, Patino and his co-conspirator Ashish Halai, 34, bought nearly $237,000 worth of fake Viagra and on sold it, mainly via the web, to patients in the UK and around the world. It is reported that as many as 200 orders were made a day for the fake drug.

During that period, Patino received numerous complaints, including one that stated the drug was coated with blue paint that was coming off the tablet.

Patino was arrested in October 2005 at Heathrow Airport as he waited to board a plane to Leeds. At the time of his arrest, Patino was carrying a laptop and memory stick containing files of his business dealings and more than 2000 digital photographs depicting or associated with pharmaceutical products.

Last year, Patino stood trial with others involved in the drug fraud. Co-conspirator Halai was jailed for four and a-half years last year, but the jury failed to reach a verdict in relation to Patino’s charges. Last week, Patino pleaded guilty to one charge.

Judge Nicholas Price QC told Patino: “You must bear a heavy responsibility for your actions that were driven by greed and a reckless disregard for the effects of your criminality. Such conduct from a doctor of medicine goes against all medical ethics and makes you a disgrace within your profession.”

Counterfeit drug market
The counterfeit drug market is booming, with fake drugs predicted to reach $75 billion globally by 2010, which marks a 90% increase from 2005. Online fraud in increasingly driving the trade, particularly in erectile dysfunction drugs.

In response to the Stormgrand operation, Mick Deats, group Manager of Enforcement at the MHRA, said: “Counterfeit medicines can be dangerous – designed so as to deceive people and healthcare professionals whilst generating vast profits for the counterfeiters. The MHRA will not hesitate to use the full range of powers available to investigate and prosecute whose who represent a risk to public health.”

Viagra manufacturer Pfizer was not directly involved with the operation but said in a statement to PharmaTimes that it “welcomes the conclusion of this landmark case”.

“This illustrates how the UK is being increasingly targeted by international criminal networks intent on supplying counterfeit medicines to UK patients. We are very pleased that the joint efforts of industry and the MHRA have brought to a successful end the activities of a criminal who knowingly put the safety of UK patients at risk,” Pfizer spokesman Andrew Widger said.

“This case underlines the need to continuously improve the security of the medicines' supply chain and guarantee the safety of UK patients. Furthermore this case highlights the potential safety risks of purchasing medicines from uncontrolled sources such as unregulated websites,” he added.

The company is currently reviewing the packaging of its medicines and is in the process of introducing various anti-counterfeiting and patient safety measures, such as tamper evident packaging and colour-shifting logos in a bid to put a halt to the counterfeit drug trade and help protect patients.